MSC Virtuosa has been forced to cancel its planned port call at Greenock, near Glasgow, on Wednesday (June 9), meaning passengers won’t be able to disembark or embark.
The line, which was the first to resume ex-UK sailings this summer, said it was now “awaiting further clarification” from Scottish authorities about the situation which it confirmed “regrettably means that we have had to cancel our proposed visit to Greenock tomorrow”.
It means hundreds of passengers onboard – including some Scottish guests – won’t be able to disembark for planned excursions, while others who were planning to join the cruise at Greenock will not be able to board.
Michele Lister who works at Glen Travel
The seven-day cruise started with MSC Virtuosa making its maiden visit to Liverpool on Tuesday (June 8), with plans to visit Greenock on June 9, ahead of stops at Belfast, Southampton and Isle of Portland before returning to Greenock and with a final stop at Liverpool the following day.
An MSC spokesperson said: “We hope that our calls to Scotland with our special cruises can commence soon considering how much we were looking forward to welcoming our Scottish guests onboard MSC Virtuosa and how we are aware of the important and widespread contribution that the cruise industry makes to Scotland.”
The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) said the hundreds of passengers on board were given less than 24 hours’ notice of the move – despite pressure from the agency body for clarification from the Scottish government.
The SPAA said an email sent to current passengers onboard the MSC Virtuosa by the cruise line read: “Due to the latest Scottish Government Covid 19 restrictions and regulations…we are sorry to inform you that the port call of Greenock has been cancelled. No guests are allowed to embark or disembark. This decision has been made by the Scottish Government and is out of our control.”
Travel agents across Scotland have also been informed that departures from Greenock on June 16 and 23 have also been cancelled.
The SPAA said Scottish passengers were due to join the cruise in Greenock and an estimated one-third of the current passengers were expected to go ashore for excursions on Wednesday.
Joanne Dooey, SPAA president, said: “We’re now facing the situation where Scottish passengers who joined the cruise in Liverpool are barred from setting foot in their own country. The SPAA has been asking for clarity on the situation for this particular cruise ship since last week, and all we have received so far is an indicated that cruises may only restart when all of Scotland is in Level one. Inverclyde itself is currently in Level one.”
Jacqueline Dobson, president of Barrhead Travel, added: “The news today is yet another hammer-blow for the Scottish travel industry, Scottish holidaymakers and for regional tourism partners who were looking forward to welcoming UK guests ashore for excursions.
“Cruises from Greenock have been on sale for months, yet despite urgent calls from the industry, the Scottish government has provided less than 36 hours’ notice that these sailings cannot go ahead.
“Meaningful engagement with the Scottish travel industry is of paramount importance and we must see this take place over the coming weeks. It is unsustainable for the Scottish Government to continue to make announcements without constructive consultation with key industry partners when these decisions have such a profound impact on business.”
Dooey added: “The Scottish government has effectively closed the country’s borders to anything other than road travel. The irony is that any of these passengers can get in a car and drive from Southampton to Inverclyde with no testing, border control or vaccinations.
“We’ve been advised that the Scottish government recognises that this ‘will be somewhat disheartening to the industry’ but this cruise route was a lifeline for Scottish travel agents and their passengers who want a holiday.
“We, as travel agents, are utterly devastated. As the door to the only international flight closed this week with Portugal being placed on the amber list – with no ‘watch list’ warning as promised by the government – this cruise series of domestic cruising was one of the only products left for travel agents to sell.
“The Scottish government is not even paying lip service now to working with the travel sector to save Scottish travel.”
Passengers booked to embark on future MSC Cruises at Greenock may face being transported by road to Liverpool to join the vessel.
Usually able to accommodate more than 6,000 guests, the ship is currently sailing with only 1,000 guests in accordance with government guidance.
An MSC Cruises spokeswoman said: “In light of recent information received, we are now awaiting further clarification from the relevant authorities in Scotland about the situation for cruising which regrettably means that we have had to cancel our proposed visit to Greenock tomorrow.
“We hope that our calls to Scotland with our special cruises can commence soon considering how much we were looking forward to welcoming our Scottish guests onboard MSC Virtuosa and how we are aware of the important and widespread contribution that the cruise industry makes to Scotland.”